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October 1, 2009

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Dad arrested for alleged abduction

AN American father on a mission to reclaim his young children in Japan was arrested over their alleged abduction while they were walking to school with his ex-wife, officials said yesterday.

Christopher John Savoie snatched his two children - an 8-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl - by force on Monday in the southern city of Fukuoka, shoved them into a car and drove away, said Akira Naraki, a police spokesman in the city.

Savoie, a 38-year-old from Franklin, Tennessee, was arrested by Japanese police as he tried to enter the United States Consulate in Fukuoka with the children, according to Tracy Taylor, a spokeswoman at the consulate.

He was arrested after his ex-wife, Noriko, alerted the police. The children were returned to her, Taylor said. Efforts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Police said they received permission from the court to keep Savoie in custody for 10 days.

The divorced couple and the two children were living in Tennessee, but Noriko Savoie came to Japan with the two children in August without telling her ex-husband, Taylor said.

The number of such cases is growing in Japan - mostly with Japanese mothers bringing their children back to the country and refusing to let their foreign ex-husbands visit them.

Japan has yet to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, which seeks to standardize laws among participating countries to ensure that custody decisions can be made by appropriate courts and protect the rights of access of both parents. Japan has argued that refusing to sign the Hague Convention helped shield Japanese women and their children fleeing from abusive foreign husbands.

In Japan, if a couple gets divorced, one parent often gets sole custody of their children - almost always the mother.

Divorced fathers typically don't get much access to their children.

The US, Canada, Britain and France issued a joint statement in May urging Japan to address the problem and sign the Hague Convention. At least 70 dispute cases exist between Japan and the US.

"Japan is an important partner and friend of the US, but on this issue we have quite different points of view," said David Marks, US Embassy spokesman in Tokyo.

"Culturally, Japan and the US have very different approaches to divorce and child-rearing. Japanese privacy laws can create frustrations for 'left-behind' parents."

The Savoies were divorced in January and the mother was given primary custody of the children, while the father was given time with them on alternating weekends and four weeks during the summer, according to records from the Chancery Court for Williamson County in Tennessee that were posted on the Website of Nashville television station WTVF.

US Consulate officials have twice visited Savoie, who now has an American and Japanese lawyers, Taylor said.

Japan is aware of the need to address the issue and that it is seriously considering joining the Hague convention, said Kosei Nomura, a Foreign Ministry official in charge of international law.


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